Why wish my readers Happy New Year with a scowling picture of your humble blogger? This portrait was my good start to the year just ending. Randall Harris of Figureworks Gallery had invited me to submit a work for an exhibition of self portraits, the gallery’s first show of 2013. It was an opportunity to show alongside a wide variety of really good artists, some of them well-known.
In December 2012 I drew this portrait, with a camera set up to capture stages in the development of the picture. I pointed a video camera at myself and drew from the image on a monitor, to avoid the reversed face you get in a mirror and the frozen effect you can get from working from a photograph. The bluish colors you see under my eyebrows represent the cool glow of the computer monitor I could see on my face.
In the Figureworks exhibition, I showed the portrait as a multimedia piece, with the original 18″ x 24″ drawing hung alongside a digital screen playing an animation of the drawing as it built up, layer by layer. Here’s the video (email subscribers will need to click the link to see the video on Vimeo.
I really didn’t expect this work to sell. Who – besides maybe my mother – would want a giant picture of me? But a collector bought the piece (drawing and digital animation together), kicking off my 2013 with a red dot.
To all my readers, friends, and fans, best wishes for curiosity, creativity and joy in the coming year!
The Watcher is a life-size figurative sculpture that overlooks a quiet path in the woods at the Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, New York. It’s been there for six or seven years, but coming upon it, you’d think it had been there for centuries. It seems to grow out of the land, manifesting the spirit of the place.
The Watcher, front view, 2009, by Fred Hatt
If this is a wood nymph, it is no pale, delicate fairy. The Watcher is rough and gnarled like an old tree, an embodiment of life force that survives the lashings of seasons by twisting and toughening and enduring.
The Watcher, back view, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt
Bellavia is the artist who created The Watcher. For many years she has been a strong presence in the creative community of the festivals at Brushwood. A few years ago she moved from Western New York to New Orleans, but still returns to Brushwood when she can. (Click on her name above to see other artwork by Bellavia.)
Bellavia, 2004, photo and face paint by Fred Hatt
The Watcher is made is made of bronze, pine, burlap, organic matter, fiberglass resin, bone, and cast glass. Parts of it are cast from a live model, Liag, who is a friend of the artist. Liag told me “I have felt an attachment to The Watcher since I first saw Bella’s sketches in 2004. The process of me becoming part of the sculpture, my torso and arms and hand, was profound. I feel she is now part of me. I sense her presence within and around me all the time. She is alive.”
Head of the Watcher, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt
I asked Bellavia if she designed the work in advance or if it emerged from experimentation. She replied, “I had a rough vision of the piece when I started. It turned out a little like the sketches but so very different at the same time. The piece itself takes over at some point and brings itself to the front and I just become a conduit for it.”
Hand of the Watcher, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt
She said the Watcher “was not made with brushwood in mind. I don’t work with places in mind for the work. I simply could not move her down south with me and I felt like I really wanted to give something back to the community at Brushwood.”
The Watcher, upper body, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt
For Bellavia, the work is about female identity and body image. In an artist’s statement, she says:
As a human who happens to be a woman I am all too aware that public opinion and disapproval is something that we are still essentially bound by. Our societal teachings about the many aspects of “self” are generally distorted and inaccurate. I am interested in presenting the viewer with a look into those distortions and offering glimpses of the possibilities in transforming that fear of disapproval or censure. My personal modes of perception towards the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities cause my work to be up close, personal and visceral. My artwork is exploration as a process of defining/redefining an image of the self and body. Oftentimes beautiful, dangerous and disturbing, a palpable presence arises from my work. There is always a hint of darkness underneath the beauty, completing the circle of light and dark. My work is daring, and shows courage, grace and beauty in being willing to challenge normal assumptions about sexuality and boundaries. I am very upfront about the assertion of ones sexuality and exploration of such. I am often my own subject, facing myself, my past and my demons. I endeavor to show the transformation process that starts in the soul towards a new definition of the self. This artistic process brings a freedom from the weight of prejudices, traditions, and custom and the healing from that lies not in distancing myself from it, not in attempting to heal it, but in embracing the experience as part of being alive.
Eye of the Watcher, 2013, light painting photo by Fred Hatt
Many people are drawn to spend time with The Watcher, and a sort of altar has grown around the base of the sculpture. I feel a power in the work, and I’ve occasionally tried to capture some of its spirit in photographs. This summer, I used The Watcher as a model for light painting. Light painting photographs are taken in the dark with a long exposure time, during which I move around the subject with flashlights or other hand-held lights, applying strokes of light to bring out aspects of the form or to suggest energy within.
The Watcher with Wings, 2013, light painting photo by Fred Hatt
The video below is made up of some of my light painting images of The Watcher, dissolving one into another so that light seems to move around and animate her earthy form. This is my personal exploration of the palpable presence of The Watcher.
Artists who work from direct observation have a special way of looking at their subjects, a darting glance that picks up impressions the way a janitor’s litter spike snags trash. Nearly every action that builds up the drawing or painting follows from one of those quick looks. You look and make a mark, look again to refine the mark, look again to find the spatial relation of this to that, look for angles, look for curves, look for shades and colors, look to compare, look to correct. You’re constantly comparing your sketch to your model, translating perceptions into marks, trying to see better and capture better all the time, and racing the clock. In a classroom full of artists of mixed levels of experience, you can pick out the ones that know what they’re doing by watching how they look: how efficient and focused is their glance, and how frequently they look between their paper and the model.
These artists are drawing at Minerva Durham’s Spring Studio in New York, a drawing studio that attracts the most dedicated practitioners of drawing from the live model. If you were to observe a drawing session at Spring Studio, you’d probably be struck first by the quiet intensity of the whole group of artists. There is no music, no talking, just the single-minded focus on seeing and drawing.
Crouch, 2009, by Fred Hatt
In quick poses my glances are looking for overall forms, trying to see the figure as an arrangement of curves in space.
On One Knee, 2013, by Fred Hatt
In the crayon drawing above, I made a first rough pass in magenta, then refined my contours in a bolder blue. There was probably a glance for nearly every separate stroke in the drawing. The sketch below is done with a brush and black watercolor. The individual strokes are easier to distinguish here. I see the curve of the shoulder and that becomes a brush stroke, then glance at the breast and make that curve, then at the belly and make that curve, and so on. Each marking has a certain rhythm and motion that reflect a quick tracing of that particular contour in my perceptual system.
Music, 2013, by Fred Hatt
Quite apart from the act of drawing, the normal visual process works by assembling impressions picked up by quick movements of the eyes called saccades. The eyes only see clearly over a narrow angle; the overall sharp photographic image we think we see is constructed in the brain as the fragmentary impressions of the saccades are knitted together. (Here’s a more detailed blog post about how that works.)
Complementary Poses, 2012, by Fred Hatt
Constant practice improves the speed by which we receive such perceptions. Each moment of seeing is translated into a movement of the hand. The resulting marks reflect the quality of these movements, and thereby trace a record of the act of vision, a series of impressions made as the artist experiences them.
Passion, 2003, by Fred Hatt
Drawing is not simply a copying of contours, but a trail left in permanent marks as the mind examines a scene over a particular period of time. Seen this way, it is clear that drawing captures something that photography does not. A camera, like an NSA surveillance program, indiscriminately vacuums up every detail of light information in its range. A drawing artist is more like a murder-mystery detective, following all the trails, picking up clues, details, impressions, until a coherent picture emerges from the process. Photography is a mechanical scan, while drawing is an active, responsive exploration of a scene. The distinction is between intelligence gathering and intelligent gathering.
Corner, 2008, by Fred Hatt
The drawing medium affects how I see. When I am holding a pencil, as in the sketch above, I see the scene in terms of lines. When I use a fan brush, as below, I see broader strokes of light and shadow revealing the form in space.
Folding Forward, 2013, by Fred Hatt
I look for curves, and I look for angles. The form is constructed of flowing, rhythmic curves. The spatial arrangement of those curves is defined by angular connections.
Hands on Sacrum, 2013, by Fred Hatt
In drawing with a linear medium such as crayon or pencil, light, shade and color must all be translated into line. I imagine that I am drawing, not on flat paper, but directly on the body itself, so that every line follows the three-dimensional shape of the body. Notice the white serpentine line running from armpit to hip in the torso study below. It represents the center of a highlighted area, but its meandering reveals the subtle irregularities imparted to the surface of the skin by underlying layers of bone and muscle, as a raindrop snaking down a windshield shows the hidden undulations in seemingly smooth glass.
Lines of Energy on a Torso, 2006, by Fred Hatt
Every glance is a fragment of perceiving. Every glance becomes a stroke in the drawing. It is a living process to record the phenomenon of life.
Imagining, 2008, by Fred Hatt
When there is more time to develop a drawing, additional layers of perceptions build up as the artist looks at the subject again and again. Light, shade, color, reflection, absorption, space, energy, temperature, texture, gravity, vibration, growth and decay – all the phenomena of matter and of life can be found by looking and looking some more.
Legs, 2009, by Fred Hatt
Color and light in the real world are complex and slippery. Capturing such things is not a matter of simply duplicating a surface hue and value. Everything is relative, so everything must be seen relative to other things in the scene. As the work develops, the glances are comparative. What areas are redder than their neighboring areas? What areas are greener?
Back Light, 2013, by Fred Hatt
A body exists in space, and the image in the drawing becomes more real as it develops a sense of space. Further glances look at the parts of the body as they intersect with elements of the background.
In a Room, 2013, by Fred Hatt
I keep glancing, looking at light that reflects into shadows and light that penetrates the translucent skin and emerges tinged and diffused, looking at creases that swallow light and bulges that create specular highlights and gradients.
Side Arc, 2013, by Fred Hatt
To draw is to see seeing, that is, to experience in action all the processes that go into visual perception.
La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, one of the world’s great laboratories for cultivating new talent and exploring new directions in the performing arts, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2011. Eric Marciano, an independent filmmaker for whom I have often worked as a videographer, produced some video pieces about the history and future of this great creative hothouse, and he asked me to draw portraits of a few of the key people interviewed or profiled in the clips, and to animate the process of creating the drawings. Eric’s company, American Montage, recently posted the resulting clips to its Vimeo page, so I can share them here with my blog readers. The video is embedded at the bottom of this post (but those who receive the blog by email subscription will have to follow the link to see it on the web).
These drawings could not be done from life, as I always prefer in portrait drawing, but had to be done from photographs, or, in most cases, freeze-frames from video interviews. They also had to be made to fit the wide 16 by 9 aspect ratio used for high-definition video, not the frame I would usually select for a portrait. This means much of the frame would be background, so I’d need to develop background designs for each face. I set up an easel with a camera on a tripod behind it, and as I worked on the drawings I stopped frequently to snap photographs of the work in progress. The photographs were used to make animations of the drawings as they come into being, layer by layer.
In “Faces of Figureworks“, the exhibition featuring self-portraits by fifty artists currently on view (through March 3, 2013) at Brooklyn’s Figureworks Gallery, I’m showing a new self-portrait drawing alongside a similar, but slower, animation of that drawing’s evolvement, displayed on a digital photo frame.
I remember being fascinated as a kid by Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1956 film Le mystère Picasso, in which the famous artist painted on back-lit glass panels so the development and alteration of the works is recorded as it happens in time. It made me aware of drawing as a time-based artform. While we usually see drawings or paintings only in their finished form, their creation is a process of movement and change. Many of the directions I have explored in my own work, including painting as a performance, and many posts here on Drawing Life, have been my attempts to explore my own process, and to share that process with others.
In this post I’ll share the drawings I made for the La MaMa video, with stills of each drawing in its finished form, and brief introductions of the subjects, and at the bottom of the post I’ll share the animated clip.
So many famous writers, performers, directors, designers, and composers have been associated with La MaMa that a small selection of portraits like this is necessarily a somewhat arbitrary sampling, but one name is essential. La MaMa was the creation and lifelong project of Ellen Stewart, also known as Mama, whose portrait leads this post above. Stewart, a fashion designer, started La MaMa as a performance café in 1961, a supportive place for the burgeoning creative experimentation of 1960’s New York and soon a magnet for artists from all over the world who were drawn to its cross-cultural playground of theatrical magic.
Andrei Serban, 2011, by Fred Hatt
Stage director Andrei Serban is known for innovative approaches to classic texts with enveloping theatrical pageantry.
John Kelly, 2011, by Fred Hatt
Artist, singer and dancer John Kelly transforms his persona to explore the worlds and psyches of Egon Schiele, Joni Mitchell, and Caravaggio, among others.
Peter Brook, 2011, by Fred Hatt
Since the 1950’s, director Peter Brook has been making spectacular, visceral theater and film with an international cast of collaborators.
Elizabeth Swados, 2011, by Fred Hatt
Composer, writer, and director Elizabeth Swados makes exciting music and theater, crossing every boundary of style and genre.
Christopher Tanner, 2011, by Fred Hatt
Visual artist and performer Christopher Tanner approaches everything he does with extravagant maximalism.
Mia Yoo, 2011, by Fred Hatt
Mia Yoo, a former actress in La MaMa’s Great Jones Repertory Company, is Ellen Stewart’s successor, the Artistic Director of La MaMa ETC since Stewart’s death in early 2011.
And here’s the film, courtesy of Eric Marciano and American Montage, Inc. There is a glitch in the first clip, where Peter Brook’s background disappears and reappears at the end, but this should give you a good look at how my drawing process works. I believe the music is an excerpt from an Iggy Pop song. If you don’t see the video here, follow this link.